Ride the Rockies 2021- Getting There

September 30, 2021 § 1 Comment

Ride the Rockies is an organized ride facilitated by the Denver Post in 1986. I am not sure when I first heard about it, but while I was house rich and cash poor, some of my cycling friends embarked on more than one RTR adventure, and I stayed behind and pined. Images were sent, and I wished I had the resources to attend. Of course, me being a cheap bastard, I would have camped, while my friends dined and slept in the luxury of the hotel option, but at that time, my vacation time that wasn’t family oriented was dedicated to backpacking, and the luxury of a week of bike riding just wasn’t in the cards.

That all changed in January of 2020, when I was already committed to a backpacking adventure in the Weminuchi Wilderness, and RTR announced their route would be based in Durango. We had sold our house in November, and I was no longer cash poor, so I signed up immediately for RTR 2020. Why not? I could use RTR to scope out Durango for my backpacking trip, and I could do my first multi-day bike ride adventure since bringing Cliff home. Seemed like a win-win.

And then news cycle frequency around the Covid-19 increased, and our then Presidential idiot chose to politicize the entire emergency, thus turning our response into a fiasco, and before a month was out, the country was shutting down to contain the spread. Let me re-phrase that. Blue states were shutting down, and Red states were resisting, and pretty soon it looked like everything was going to hell. At some point, the RTR folks issued a postponement of 2020, and those wanting a refund could take it, otherwise it would roll into 2021, and if everything improved, they would run the same ride, only a year late. My Weminuche group elected to do the same thing, and so all was set, only it was just 1 year later.

In 2020, I probably would have ridden RTR by myself, however in 2021 I had some company to look forward to. A longtime friend and work colleague, Ken Lehner had recently retired, and I must have mentioned what I was up to, and he did some research, asked a few questions, and then posed the question to his wife (also a longtime friend and former work colleague) who asked him one basic question. “What have you been working and saving for if not to do attempt these kinds of events every once in a while?” She had a good point, and Ken signed up. At first he chose the Camping Elevated, which is basically camping, however you pay about $500 to have a company setup and take down your tent. It’s not actually your tent, but a tent that the company provides, and all you bring is your sleeping bag, and clothes. Not a bad service. They even throw in a chair so you can hang out outside your tent until you are ready to retire.

Another thing happened, and that was some of my riding friends also decided to sign up. Three of them were also signed up for a 1/3 of the Southern PAC Tour, and wanted to have some good long miles of training for that, and so Cliff, Aaron, and Gerry signed up. Of course, these were not camper, nor glampers, so they took the hotel option. When Alex, another friend heard what was going on, he signed up as well, and now we were 6.

We started training fairly early in the Spring, and by training, I mean making efforts to do long challenging rides. Cliff and I hit Harriman the last Friday in February where we found at least one road just too icy and snow covered (Road is closed in Winter), to safely navigate. Fret not, as we were still able to get a decent ride in. There were multiple trips to see Thomas Paine (The Revolutionary Pamphleteer) in Bordentown, and I had many 200+ mile weeks.

There was another bump raised in this road to fitness. The name of it was Augie Carton. Augie challenged his friends to join him for a “Longest Day” ride from his brewery (Carton of course!) in Atlantic Highlands to Dogfish Head Brewing in Lewes De. I mapped out a route of about 154 miles, but there was one small problem. My RTR ride ends Friday afternoon, and this Augie ride starts early pearly in the wee A.M. hours on Sunday, so I have to get from Durango to Jersey and be ready to ride. That wasn’t really the biggest issue, as was the issue of which bike to ride. See, I have a new bike, and I wanted to both ride that bike in the RTR, AND also on the Augie ride, and the only way that could happen was to travel with the bike. There was another issue that played into this in the form of flights. From Durango, the first flight out was Saturday early morning, and that just seemed too late. There was a 12:30 Red Eye out of Denver, which required a booking on the charter bus the RTR organization hires out. I read the itinerary and it all seemed fine. Finish the ride, break down and pack the bike, grab the bus, make the flight, and I am home by early afternoon Saturday with enough time to re-assemble the bike, get my act together, and grab enough sleep for Sunday’s ride. So, that was what I committed to and I booked my flight on American and secured a bus seat. For some reason, Ken decided that was what he would do as well so at least I would have some company, though Ken’s arriving flight was a United flight, he booked the same American flight to return.

Life can be sometimes a real pain in the ass, however, it does grant us clues of what the future may hold. What am I talking about you ask? Just this. Not two weeks after booking American, I get two emails detailing the “New” updated times of my flights. Just to be clear, American’s main hub is in Charlotte, and so both of my travel days involved connecting flights in Charlotte, and all four flights had new times, and the most significant of them was a longer layover in Charlotte on the return. This was the first sign that my supposedly well laid out plan was pieced together using glue instead of structurally sound steel. I should have at that point, completely re-thought my plans, but I did not.

The RTR route involved 6 days of riding, with overnights in various towns in SW Colorado. There would be two nights in Durango, as the first days ride was loop ride, and two nights in Ridgway (Where is the damn ‘e’?) because of another loop. That left use with an over-night in Cortez, and one in Norwood. The timeframe for the ride was the second week in June, and if you know anything about the Rocky Mountains, they still have a lot of snow in June, and it is usually pretty cool to cold in the morning, and can be very pleasant in the afternoon. So, that is what I planned for, and it should be noted that I was checking the weather daily just to see what was going down, and those checks confirmed mornings in the mid 40’s with afternoon highs in the 70’s and low 80’s. The challenge, it seemed was to dress in layers that can be discarded, but what to do with those layers? The ride would/should be well supported but that support did not include a clothing change along the route, so I picked up an Ortlieb bag to attach under my seat where I could stow my extra clothing. Everything was working out.

My travel day arrived, I was packed and ready to go. My lovely daughter #1 agreed to my outrageous departure schedule by picking me up at 3:30 in the A.M. and driving me to Newark. It was an absurd request, but she is a loving daughter that will do almost anything for her loving father and was at my garage on time with the equally lovely Gus the dog in tow. Everything was going to plan, however I learned something that day. It seems that when people plan vacations these days, they ALL want to leave early, and the American terminal at Newark was mobbed. Time was on my side, and worried not was I, and patiently I navigated the self-check-in apparatus, and dropped both of my checked bags with the American agent. I would like to note here that though I had an extra checked bag, I did not incur any extra charge for my bike, as my investment in an Orucase proved worth the cost that as long as the dimensions are within the airline’s limits, a regular charge of $25 was paid, and not the oversize charge, which sometimes is $150. Of course I will need to use this case a few more times before the case pays for itself, but at this point I was planning on taking my bike to California later in the summer when it was time for Daughter #2’s wedding, so there was an early plan to save almost $600 in baggage fees.

Everything continued to plan. I decided to rest on the flight to Charlotte, and between connections, would grab a bite to eat before the long haul to Denver. Charlotte is a HUGE airport, and there are a lot of food options, even at this point with travelers just coming back to the airport after the success of the vaccine, and with all the numbers coming down. I found a breakfast burrito to my liking, and was soon boarding and on my way to Denver. An uneventful flight, and I found myself with all my gear in the right part of the airport for the bus pick-up to Durango. Ken came in right after me, and asked me if I saw the weather forecast for the week. 100F all week! I was shocked and had to look it up myself, though of course I trusted what Ken was telling me. Sure enough, the entire week in Durango said daily highs over 100F. If it is 100 in Durango, it is 100 everywhere in SW Colorado. They were in an unusual grip of unseasonably high temperatures. Looks like concern about clothing was a waste of time except for the fact that I packed a bunch of stuff I didn’t need.

It was easy to identify the other RTR people who would be companions on the bus. Anyone who had a giant bike box, or bike carrier must be there for the bus. It was fewer than I had thought would be there, but then Durango was pretty damn far away. I was reviewing past RTRs and Durango is about as far from Denver as any start/end point ever, and our return journey would be exactly the same distance. I wish I had paid attention to how long it took us to drive to Durango, but I was excited about the journey that still lay ahead, and all I knew was upon arrival, I had to assemble my bike and get camp established.

With our bikes safely stowed below, Ken, myself and 16 others boarded our bus for the long drive across the state, and we hit out into the already crowded greater Denver freeway system. It was very slow going and our driver chose to drive the legs of the triangle, rather than the hypotenuse by sticking to 25 South until it intersected 160 which we rode all the way to Durango. Was that the long way? I don’t know but we didn’t get to Durango until 7:30, and we left around 11:15. Remember my plan described above? Well I hadn’t thought about it either, but I should have known just how fucked I was going to be on the return, but I was ignorant and had things to do. Fortunately I had my details packet mailed to my home, so I didn’t have that deal with.

There was one other slight hiccup and that was when the bus pulled up to the Durango Silverton Railway station and the driver announced “We’re here!” to the astonishment of almost everyone on board because looking out the windows we could all tell we weren’t where we needed to be. The charter rep that met us at the airport didn’t actually get on the bus with us, so there wasn’t an official person to appeal to, however I quickly found an e-mail which listed the address of the fair-grounds, and we found the error in the driver’s directions. A missing 0 that added about 25 blocks to where we should be, and so I quickly plotted a route, and we were on our way.

Because it was late, everything was shutting down when we arrived. Dinner was done. All the festivities were done, and people were either at the tents or their campers, or their hotels, and fortunately for us the one operation that was still operational was the bike setup area, though the main people had departed already. There were NO bike stands to use to re-assemble my bike, so I had to do it carefully on the floor. Fortunately, I had all the tools I needed, and packed some rags as well, and got down to work. Did I mention that Durango was in the midst of a heat wave? Well, the building we were in was quite warm, and the hot of the day hadn’t yet abated, so it was an uncomfortable struggle putting my Portofino back together. Most of it was pretty straight forward, however I had to completely remove the fork from the headset, and without a bike stand to clamp the frame into, it’s pretty hard trying to get that part back together again. The main issue is the brake line that threads through the fork to the disk calipers, and all the other cables that all terminate in the handlebar, which is also detached and loosely hanging. A challenge for sure, but after four attempts I finally cleared the bar, and soon my bike was ready to ride. I attached all the RTR identification as well as my RTR id bracelet which would allow me to retrieve my bike from security, and I found a place to safely rest it until morning. Last item with the RTR folks was where to store my bike bag. I had paid for storage, but there wasn’t anyone around who could verify that, so the person who was there told me to put my name on the bag, where I could put it, and that I promised to come by early tomorrow to sort it out, which I gladly agreed to.

At this point Ken was done as well, and with no dinner there, he caught a shuttle to his hotel in town, and I grabbed my travel duffel and strode over to where all the tents were. Needless to say, I was near last in what still needed to be done, but I found something strange as I approached the grounds. Not all tents were inside the grounds, and an even greater surprise was that a lot of people apparently didn’t trust security, or they simply didn’t trust how quickly they could get their bikes in the morning, and so there were bikes leaning up all over the place in the tent grounds.

By some miracle I walked onto the main grounds and found a patch of ground that was more than large enough for my needs, while not creating an undue barrier to anyone’s egress, or ingress for that matter, so I setup my Taku quickly, and soon was ready to find some food. The fair grounds are outside of the city proper, and downtown was too far to walk, and the shuttles were done for the night. As it so happened though, across 550 on the corner of 25th was a Mexican Restaurant called Nayarit, and the light was still on, and I could see people in the outdoor section still, so I headed over. They were on the verge of not taking anymore customers, but being only one person, they seated me at the bar and soon I was sipping on a delicious IPA and munching chips and salsa while my fish tacos were prepared. The bartenders took good care of me, and kept my IPA glass from getting too empty. I think I know what you are thinking, but let me assure you that I was going to be getting up at least two times that night anyway, so I might as well enjoy a few beers before I went to bed.

With my bike re-assembled, my tummy full, and my long day at an end, I re-traced my steps back to my tent (Fortunately it was easy to find, because it was only 15′ inside the entrance to the grounds), and after taking care of business, I retired for the evening.

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